Believe it or not, the American Library Association has recorded over 155 attempts at book censorship in the U.S. since June 2021. And this number is vastly underreported, since it doesn’t account for the types of censorship that happen quietly—like when a book is pulled from a library or never included in a library collection because it might become a target to censors. Intellectual freedom—or the right to access any information you desire—is baked into our First Amendment. But to ensure that freedom, it’s vital to advocate for that right. Disrupting book censorship at your local library, and defending intellectual freedom, can be a quick, five-minute investment of effort or a long-term campaign of engagement. Use the tips below for some activist inspo.
Write a Letter to Your Library
Spend a few minutes identifying what it is you love about your local library and then write to them letting them know. It doesn’t need to be a long letter, but it should be clear about what your library provides to the community. Send that letter to the library director and to members of the library board—their contact info is on the library’s website.
Why This Matters: Your library’s board meetings are open to the public and all feedback is made available to them. Positive feedback about what the library offers encourages the board to continue allowing the library to do what it does best: serve the community. Plus, it’s just nice for library staff to hear they’re appreciated.
Request Materials for the Library
Most libraries have a form on their website that allows anyone to request books for collection consideration. This is your opportunity to specifically request inclusive and frequently censored material, particularly by marginalized authors, to aid in building a more representative library.
Why This Matters: Not all materials requests can be accommodated, but most can. The collection reflects the needs of the community, which is why your local library may have items that a neighboring library does not. By specifically requesting material that’s being challenged elsewhere, you’re highlighting the value of such items to your specific area. When those books become available, check them out. Circulation statistics are another metric by which a library understands and better serves its whole community.
Many library boards and most school boards are comprised of individuals appointed through local elections. Get to know the candidates who are running, and vote for those who value intellectual freedom.
Why This Matters: Local elections have lower turnout rates than national elections. During times like these, when groups that like to censor are endorsing their own board candidates, your vote can make the difference between individuals working for their communities and those working on behalf of a political affiliation.
Sit on a Board
Want to help govern your local public or school library? If you can dedicate a few hours a month, run for a school or library board position. Note that in some cases, these positions are appointed, so learn how the process works and apply accordingly.
Why This Matters: You’ll get an inside look at these institutions while helping them to remain essential community resources. This service plays a crucial role in ensuring intellectual freedom for all. –KELLY JENSEN
header photo: Lara Jameson
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian and current editor at Book Riot and her own popular book blog, Stacked. She's the editor of three highly-acclaimed YA anthologies, Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World and (Don't) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start The Conversation About Mental Health and the recently released Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy. Her writing has been featured in Shape, Ms. Magazine, Fortune, Bustle, and more. When not working with words, she teaches yoga, hangs out with a motley crew of pets, and enjoys all of the black licorice no one else wants. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen and her website kellybjensen.com.